Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Travel the World: England: Narnia: Last Battle

Lewis, C.S. 1956. The Last Battle.

In the last days of Narnia, far up to the west beyond Lantern Waste and close beside the great waterfall, there lived an Ape. He was so old that no one could remember when he had first come to live in those parts, and he was the cleverest, ugliest, most wrinkled Ape you can imagine. He had a little house, built of wood and thatched with leaves, up in the fork of a great tree, and his name was Shift. There were very few Talking Beasts or Men or Dwarfs, or people of any sort, in that part of the wood, but Shift had one friend and neighbour who was a donkey called Puzzle. At least they both said they were friends, but from the way things went on you might have thought Puzzle was more like Shift's servant than his friend.

The beginning of the end starts with one donkey, one ape, and one lion skin that floats downstream. From that skin an evil plot is born, and from that plot much blood is shed and much harm is done for every living thing (man, animal, tree, etc.) in Narnia. Shift's plot? To have Puzzle wear the lion skin and "be" Aslan for curious persons to gaze upon from a distance. Shift's real plot? To use the name of Aslan to get exactly what he wants.

It has been many generations since King Rilian ruled. Now his descendant, a king named Tirian, reigns. Though his luck seems to change overnight. One day a king, the next a prisoner. And all because "Aslan" has arrived back in Narnia.

Using the famed line "He's not a tame lion" people reason away all the signs that this is NOT Aslan. He commands the destruction of trees with spirits? Not a tame lion. He demands talking beasts to become his slaves? Not a tame lion. Demands servitude and exile from dwarfs? Not a tame lion. It's easy to say from our perspective that these animals, these individuals are a bit too gullible. But when you stop and think about it, the reader knows more, has experienced more. There haven't been any Aslan spottings in hundreds perhaps a thousand years. What the average Narnian knows is just stories passed down generation by generation by generation. Is it really so hard to see that perhaps their faith has more doubt than certainty? The truth is the average Narnian has not had any "use" for Aslan and his stories in their practical lives. So their faith isn't as "active" as it could be, should be perhaps.

King Tirian won't be fooled for long. He starts off highly suspicious and remains so for the most part. Once he's been captured, imprisoned, Tirian starts to think, to really think about Narnia, about Narnian history, about what he knows to be true, to be right. He realizes that humans from another world have always always been a part of the action. That the arrival of humans almost always accompanies these Aslan sightings. There is always a link. So he delivers a heartfelt prayer that these human saviors will come once again and fight for Narnia, to fight for freedom, to fight for right.

His prayer is answered in a way, but not in the way he hoped. I hope this isn't too much of a spoiler for readers. But it is called The Last Battle for a reason. Narnia is coming to an end. The world, the country, is dying. Tirian and the humans who arrive--Jill, Eustace, Lucy, Edmund, Peter, Digory, and Polly--are there to witness the end of Narnia and the beginning of their after lives.

As a child, I enjoyed this one. I would have put it above many of the other books in the series--including Horse and His Boy and Silver Chair--but as an adult I have a new perspective altogether. While some of the aspects of this one work for me, there were quite a few significant problems.

I'm not sure if other readers will share my quibbles or not. They may have different issues than I do. Among one of the reasons why people may find the last one disappointing is that...


all the humans die. Jill. Eustace. Peter. Edmund. Lucy. Digory. Polly. Most of them (I think most of them) die as a result of a train accident. (The Pevensie parents die as well but we still don't see them in the book.) I'm not sure if killing off all your characters will leave readers satisfied. Yes, the characters themselves are happy. But the deaths of so many seem tragic to me. Not that death itself is tragic. (Death can be a good thing. It can be a blessing.)

Second. Susan is missing. She's no longer a "friend" of Narnia. This is 'tragic' for several reasons. One is that technically speaking she will have lost her mother, father, two brothers, and a sister. She'll be all alone in the world. Two is the not-so-subtle theme that you can lose your salvation. If being a friend of Narnia translates directly into being a Christian, then Lewis' message seems to be that Susan represents Christians that have fallen from grace and lost their salvation, lost their way. Of course there are some believers who do in fact believe that this is the case. That Christians can un-Christian themselves, un-save themselves, re-damn themselves. I for one am not one of them. Of course, there is the potential that this fictional Susan could regain her friend status later on in life. That she could have another opportunity to believe. But Susan as allegory just doesn't work for me.

The other problems I had with this book were all theological. And they were pretty significant. But this blog isn't the proper place to really get into theological debates.

For those readers who are not approaching these seven novels as a Christian believer, for those that are reading them because they are fantasy--pure and simple and fun fantasy--then The Last Battle is a fitting conclusion.© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Unknown said...

I agree - this is the saddest book in the series, but I truly enjoyed it! Nice review.

Jennie said...

My latest reading of these has been from a academic Christian perspective, in that I was reading them for a class on Jesus and searching for the theology in them without bringing my own theology into it. If that makes any sense.

ANYWAY! What bugged me the most is that Susan was no longer a friend of Narnia because she was a friend of lipstick and nylons instead. I can understand the symbolism of turning away from Christianity but really? LIPSTICK?!

John Evo said...

I was wondering if you mind taking a moment and sharing something with me about your beliefs? This could also apply to any of your visitors here at the blog: if anyone reading this would like to email me your answer, I’d greatly appreciate it.

The question is this: thinking about your religious belief and its importance to you, what is the SINGLE greatest thing that you think your faith gives you know or will give you in the future? When thinking about it, please consider that you are trying to convince another human being that your faith is the one they should choose and you can only make one single argument for accepting it.

I greatly appreciate the help. Again, I’m not looking for a series of good reasons for believing what you do. Please limit your answer to ONE thing or advantage that your faith gives you.

Holly said...

I always found this book very stirring as a child. I could do with a reread of the whole series.

pussreboots said...

I've never liked The Last Battle for many of the reasons you've listed. It starts off so strong and then it ends in this heavy handed Christian allegory that ruins the entire series.

Confuzzled Shannon said...

I only read the first two books and couldn't get through the third one. My husband had the same problem. I know won't pick them up again so I read the spoilers. They all die that sucks. And sounds like the book is Lewis telling of the end of the world...deep.

Anonymous said...

Having just read the entire series, I must agree that having Susan stop believing in Narnia makes absolutely no sense.

After all, she had already grown up once as a queen of Narnia, and ruled there for many years. She didn't become vain and materialistic in her adolescence the first time. Why would she the second time?

But would ruined the book for me, and left a bad taste in my mouth, was that Lewis left poor Susan an orphan apparently without any concern for how badly that would make his readers feel. I can see why those of us who loved her character would end up hating "The Last Battle."

Anonymous said...

I HATED The Last Battle. First came the shock about Susan - Susan, who had met, had witnessed, and had touched Aslan, and furthermore had ruled as Queen of Narnia for many years, suddenly and abruptly turning her back on all that. I did not buy it for a minute. And then at the book's very end - the great betrayal - Aslan no longer looking like a lion. WHY??? Lewis dropped the ball, that's why. He turned a series of delightful fantasy tales and a world I enjoyed believing in into a tedious, depressing Sunday school lesson. I have, in some ways, never forgiven him for that. And apparently his buddy JRR Tolkein never quite forgave him for it either. What a clumsy, heavy-handed way to end the Narnia series. The Last Battle is a book I have yet to reread, and probably never will reread. And how Disney could have turned that fairy-tale Armeggedon into a viable movie is beyond me. I'd love a good movie made from every book of Narnia - save the last one. Because it just plain SUCKS!